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Enterprise networks

A Phased WAN Deployment.

Federal Bank needed to share data between its head office, nation-wide offices, branches and ATMs. It designed a nationwide WAN called FedWide and deployed it in phases. Here is a look at the strategies used by the bank.


K N C Nair

Federal Bank, a 72-year-old private sector bank has a net worth of over Rs 1,250 crore. But in order to survive in today’s fiercely competitive banking environment, it had to introduce greater efficiency in its operations and workflow.

The bank realised that a good way to do that would be to share updated data across its nationwide locations. So, Federal Bank decided to link its nationwide locations on a WAN, and share data across systems.

Going Nationwide in Phases

Considering the organisation’s size, the entire exercise was no mean task. The bank is spread across 472 nationwide branches, 12 Regional Offices (ROs), and a Head Office (HO) in Alwaye, Kerala.

In order to link all locations in the quickest and most suitable way, the organisation decided to deploy a WAN in six strategic phases. It decided to name the nationwide WAN infrastructure ‘FedWide’.

FedWide Design

First in line was the project plan which was made with a lot of thought and care. Datacraft India Limited (DIL) was chosen as the implementation partner for the project. HCL Comnet is the other partner. Service issues are being solved by both these entities.

The plan documented the key roles and responsibilities for Federal Bank and service providers. “Our basic goal in the initial phases was to set up a reliable leased line network with minimum expenditure. Keeping this in mind, we decided to use a hub-and-spoke WAN architecture,” says KNC Nair, the CIO of Federal Bank.

Every RO is connected to the HO through a 2 Mbps primary leased line link, and multiple 64 Kbps leased lines. This adds redundancy in the connectivity between the HO and the ROs, and acts as a failover path to the primary link.

The nationwide branches are connected to the nearest RO with 64 Kbps leased lines. This has reduced the per-branch cost of deploying a leased line link to the HO. The recurring charges for the backup ISDN links were optimised, because the nationwide ROs and branches were not very far apart.

Six Phases Of Deployment

The deployment of FedWide started in 2000 and was performed in six planned phases.

First phase: The HO at Alwaye, Kerala was connected to the ROs at the five metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore, with 64 Kbps leased lines.

The Funds and Investment Branches at Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai, the International Banking Department and the Ernakulam location were connected to the respective ROs with leased lines. All other branches under each region were connected to the respective ROs with dial-up links.

Second phase: In the second phase, the ROs in Kerala were connected to the HO at Alwaye with a 64 Kbps leased line.

Third phase: Most of the large automated branches (70 branches) were connected to the network with 64 Kbps leased lines. ISDN lines were also provided at each location as backups to the leased lines.

Fourth phase: 140 new branches were connected to the network with 64 Kbps leased lines. ISDN lines were used at the locations wherever feasible, as a backup measure.

Fifth phase: 70 more branches were connected on the network at the end of this phase.

Sixth phase: They connected the remaining branches to the network by December 2003.

The entire project was tracked by DIL on a weekly basis. Reports were generated and submitted to the bank every week on the progress and any other issues.

Success Factors

All key management staff of Federal Bank and DIL were involved in the project, right from the first phase. This helped to resolve all critical issues at the earliest.

To ensure quicker availability of leased lines with minimum accounting and administration hassles, DIL partnered with BSNL for the FedWide project. The top management from the BSNL HO in Delhi was informed about the project and its criticality. BSNL, Delhi co-ordinated constantly with its offices in Kerala to address issues when they arose.

In A Nutshell
  • The company: Federal Bank has a net worth of over Rs 560 crore. It is spread across 472 nationwide branches, 12 Regional Offices (ROs), and a Head Office (HO) in Alwaye, Kerala.
  • The need: In order to survive in the fiercely competitive banking environment of today, the bank had to introduce greater efficiency in its operations and workflow.
  • The solution: Federal Bank realised that a good way to stay competitive would be to share updated data across its nationwide locations. So, it decided to link its nationwide locations on a WAN and share data across systems.
  • The benefits: The bank is able to share updated data across its branches, ROs and HO. This has allowed it to introduce greater efficiency in operations and workflow. The bank has seen a 25 percent increase in its customer base.

FedWide Now

FedWide, the network, which was initially set up for collecting data only from the few ROs, has evolved into a mammoth architecture that connects 472 nationwide branches and offices.

FedWide is currently used for connectivity between the bank’s ATMs, branch servers, and data transmission from the branches/offices to the HO. It allows access to the bank’s Intranet server, e-mail server and extranet server. The newest application to run on FedWide is the ‘Anywhere banking’ service. VoIP has also been implemented on the network to ease communication.

FedWide has enabled the network to offer ATM services, Anywhere banking services bankwide and inter-bank RTGS services to a vast majority of its customers in Kerala, and has increased the customer base significantly. At the end of the final phase in December 2003, the bank had connected all its branches¾the first traditional bank to achieve the landmark in India.

The company’s Centralised Loan Management System leverages the existing network. A comprehensive electronic bills presentment and payment system has also been implemented across the bank using existing network connectivity.

Network Components

The nationwide branches are connected to the network with Cisco 1760 series routers. The ROs are equipped with Cisco 3600 and 3745 series routers. The procurement, installation and integration of the equipment with the existing network were done by DIL and HCL Comnet. Datacraft India also signed a three-year support contract with the bank.

Bandwidth monitoring is performed with the help of a customised Multi Router Traffic Grapher (MRTG) solution, which runs on a Linux platform. The MRTG is a tool to monitor the traffic load on the network links. It generates HTML pages containing graphical images, which provide a live visual representation of the traffic. A network-monitoring tool from Ipswitch is also used by the bank.

Management

The network functions with a distributed architecture in which each branch has a dedicated server. There is no central data centre. All offline bank ATMs have been connected with VSATs.

“We manage the network from a central location. And the system integrators manage the leased lines. The leased lines give an uptime of 98 percent,” says Nair.

Security

The connectivity links between the HO and nationwide branches use IPsec for security. And all banking transactions take place through this setup. “We have also implemented other security devices and measures to take care of any unlawful entry into the network,” explains Nair.

Future

“The bandwidth of the connectivity links between the ROs and the HO is being utilised to the maximum. We plan to double the bandwidth connecting major branches to roll out Core Banking System (CBS) applications there soon. However, the bandwidth of the links between the branches and ROs is yet to be fully utilised,” reveals Nair.

CBS implementation is expected to be completed across all its branches by March 2007. The existing network with selective enhancements in bandwidth will be required for the CBS applications.

With updates from Vinita Gupta

 
     
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